Cloud computing and the changing role of the CIO: Which is best for your business?

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Cloud computing has been named as one of 12 disruptive technologies which will change the relationship between the CIO and the boardroom, according to a report by Advanced 365.

The evolving role of the CIO, and the C-suite in general, has long been a feature of modern business. Opinions differ, whether it’s a wag who proclaims CIO to mean ‘career is over’, or whether it’s a report which advocates more fluency and fluidity between executives.

The Advanced 365 paper takes a look at the different types of CIO today and how it fits in to various businesses:

  • CIO as manager: A CIO who delivers today, may not be as much of an ideas person but manages the business for commercial success
  • CIO as leader: Engaging in and delivering change throughout the organisation, planning for tomorrow and designing new positions within the company
  • CIO as entrepreneur: Dreams about the future, seeks out change and innovates against those changes to improve commercially

The conclusion with these three categories is that each boardroom needs a manager, a leader, and an entrepreneur in its deck. Not every executive will possess all these skills – Steve Jobs, for instance, one could argue is all three – but it’s about deciding which of these is best for your company’s CIO. Managers first ask ‘what?’, leaders first ask ‘how?’, and entrepreneurs first ask ‘why?’.

Boards are expecting more tech-savvy reports from their staff. A Spencer Stuart study saw that one in five boards look for directors with technology expertise. The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) said more than a quarter (27%) of boardrooms are unhappy with the quality of technology information they receive from below.

If we’re to accept cloud as an inexorable trend in the future – and we should, if research on enterprise cloud adoption is anything to go by – then cloud supports the ‘CIO as manager’ typology, the report argues. This is due to reducing IT costs, increasing IT agility and automating processes.

“In short, it represents a more efficient and cost effective way to run IT, which has long been the goal of the CIO as manager,” the report notes, however adding: “It could however also enable the construction of new cloud based business models and ecosystems, which ensures relevance to the CIO as leader, and especially, the CIO as entrepreneur.

“In this sense, the basic users of cloud computing is radical in impact from more advanced uses, and demands a different CIO.”

The report also notes the discrepancy between CIOs and boards, arguing the two must work more closely together if they are to gain competitive advantage from emerging technologies. Equally, CIOs need to maintain a close relationship with other C-level executives, enabling them “to better understand the operating model of the company, and be better placed to contribute tellingly to its evolution.”

The 12 disruptive technologies included in the report are cloud computing, mobile internet, automation of knowledge, Internet of Things, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, next generation genomics, energy storage, 3D printing, advanced materials, advanced oil and gas exploration and renewable energy. You can read the full report here.

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1 Dec 2014, 4:29 p.m.

Forbes magazine agreed with you that cloud computing is dramatically as part of the mega-trend from owning to renting. People won't need to own PCs or the software on them very soon - instead using low-cost mobile devices connected to the web and operating with low-cost, limited use apps. The impact on strategy is profound, and in the midst of this it probably obsoletes IT as it has existed the last 20 years. Boards have to be savvy to this mega-trend and the rapid technology shift because it has enormous competitive implications - yet historical IT leadership might well be the wrong folks to help a Board understand the strategic implications.


4 Dec 2014, 12:28 a.m.

I can't imagine a "CIO as manager" leading an organization to the cloud. Implementing a hybrid cloud and moving apps to the cloud require a CIO who operates as a leader. And once there, the CIO's job isn't done. Technology is always changing, and the cloud strategy that works today might not be optimal tomorrow. -- Crystal Bedell,


7 Dec 2014, 3:48 a.m.

We have observed the 'downgrading' of the role of the CIO to the manager level described in the article. Though this is often done with a focus on cost reduction first and cloud-computing opportunities second. The 'CIO as a manager' position will still need incumbents to change their focus from more technical aspects to commercial and vendor management (including cloud brokerage).
The emergence of new technology and, as a result, digital enterprises (defined as organisations that disrupt their industry through digitisation of processes) has however created the need of a new IT and business process literate executive who can act as the visionary change agent that either drives the disruption of the industry or ensures that the organisation will survive disruption initiated by others. This is the domain of the CIO as an entrepreneur or strategist.